Alex Hoppe didn't grow up seeing himself destined for military service.
The North Medford High School graduate never participated in Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps; even his career as a Boy Scout was short-lived, he said. What he has known since he was in elementary school is that he loves applied science. And his travel experiences so far have left him hungry for more.
Alex's big aspirations ran head on into the high price tag of attending the college programs he's academically qualified for. That hurdle was overcome last fall, however, when he learned he had received a $180,000 Naval scholarship that will pay for his college education and likely help him see the world as a naval officer.
On Sept. 29, he was told he was one of the earliest picks to receive the Immediate Scholarship Reservation (some applicants are still waiting to hear back), and could take his award to any institution with a Navy ROTC program. Since then, he has boiled down his choices to either Purdue University or the University of Michigan.
Former North Medford student Jovanna Salvador-McColly, who won the same scholarship last year and now attends the University of San Diego, was the first to encourage him to apply for the scholarship in his third year of high school.
Alex had been considering the Army, but realized he would be more likely to travel in the Navy.
"I saw all the benefits and all the opportunities," he said. "People I've talked to in the program and Jovanna now ... . I haven't heard a single complaint. They all love what they're doing."
Alex, an early graduate from North with a weighted grade point average above 4.0, is much more likely to spend time working toward his goals than worrying about them. He was named an AP Scholar with Distinction last year for scoring a 3 or above on at least five AP tests and earned multiple college credits through Southern Oregon University. He participated in the National Geography Bee, represented his class in the school's Brain Bowl and was one of 11 students at North involved with the high-altitude balloon project photographing the 2017 total solar eclipse.
A self-motivated scientist from a young age, he persisted in experimenting even after accidentally burning a hole in his parents' bathtub floor when he was 9. He had been testing out a homemade firework. The hole remains.
His mother, Candy Hoppe, said whether it's school, a sport or an instrument, Alex throws himself fully into it.
"If Alex wants to get something done, he’s going to get it done," she said.
Kathleen Thomas, Alex's honors and AP chemistry teacher, remembered his reaction after his end-of-year project — a handmade furnace for smelting metal — broke just before he had to present it to the class.
"He came in with this broken messy lump of stuff and presented it as if it was a great success," she said. "Not that he wasn’t honest about what happened. It was just how he chose to present it."
Such resiliency has come in handy throughout Alex's travels. He was 15 when he embarked on his first stint abroad, studying in Taiwan, where members of his family live. He grew up participating in some Chinese cultural practices and was familiar with Mandarin, but said the experience in Taiwan was "100 percent different." He's also spent time in Iceland, the Yukon territory in Canada and Spain.
He said his travels have influenced his perspective on the U.S.
"I got a much greater appreciation for our education system," he said.
Before he experiences more U.S. education, however, he has a few more adventures planned: a ski trip around Crater Lake with his friends and a 5½-month study abroad in Horst, Germany.
After he graduates from college, he'll have a minimum of five years serving in the Navy to follow. Beyond that, he said, he isn't trying to make any concrete plans.
"I don't have any grand dreams to run for president or anything, but I'd like to change things," he said, launching into descriptions of scientific advances in making clean energy affordable. But he stopped short of many more details.
"What I do after the Navy, I'm going to leave up to me," he said with a laugh. "In the future."
— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay.